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					          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

Smiley:         From PRI, Public Radio International, in Los Angeles, I’m Tavis Smiley.

West:           And in Princeton I’m Cornell West and this is Smiley & West.

Michelle:       Obama is a drug criminal. If he had been in the hood doing the exact same thing
                he was doing on predominantly white college campuses he would have been
                stopped, he would have been searched, he would have been caught, cycling in and
                out of the prison system.

West:           On today’s show author and law professor Michelle Alexander talks about the
                effect of her powerful new The New Jim Crow on public policy in America.

Smiley:         Plus while retailers are hoping for a big holiday shopping season, more and more
                Americans are just hoping they have enough food to eat. We’ll look today at a
                hunger during the holidays.

West:           And we ask ourselves, what are we thankful for this year? Besides getting to do
                this wonderful show with my dear brother, Brother Tavis.

Smiley:         This hour with Smiley & West after the news.

                From PRI, Public Radio International, in Los Angeles I’m Tavis Smiley.

West:            And in Princeton I’m Cornell West and this is Smiley & West.

Smiley:         In this hour law professor and author Michelle Alexander looks at the effects of
                her groundbreaking text The New Jim Crow which exposes the mass incarceration
                epidemic in this country.

West:           Plus one of our listeners, though, Brother Tavis, takes me to task for opposing the
                Republican takeover of Congress. Should be interesting, uh-oh.

Smiley:          Uh-oh. Should be very interesting. You know what…

West:            We shall see.

Smiley:         Your opposition didn’t stop it from happening, but I digress.

West:           That is true. I wish I could speak in reality with change. There’d be no poor
                people. Poverty would be gone, brother.

Smiley:         As always, before Doc takes a beat down, as always, we start with the Hot Stuff.

                Doc, you recall not too long ago we all had to fill out those U.S. Census forms?

West:           Oh, yeah.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

Smiley:         Now all the data is being compiled and will be released in just a few weeks. One
                of the ways in which the data is used is for the upcoming congressional
                redistricting battle that’s headed our way early next year.

                Groups like the NAACP have started public education campaigns in the hopes of
                getting more African Americans involved in the redistricting process. But this
                upcoming fight brings up a number of issues.

                First of all, what is the criteria used for drawing these new districts? Should it be
                based on race, class or political affiliation? And what ultimately happens to
                African American communities, for that matter, poor communities across the
                country when these lines are redrawn?

                The bottom line is we know this happens every 10 years. Once the census is done
                the results start to come out and then state legislatures all across the country start
                redrawing these lines, which means that every 10 years black elected officials go
                into full cardiac arrest, because as these lines are redrawn so often black power
                starts to shift. And quite frankly starts to wane.

                So there’s always great concern about how these lines are going to be redrawn.
                And this year is no different.

West:           No, and you're so right, brother. It’s so political, it’s so partisan, it’s so
                tendentious that whoever is in power tries to draw the lines for their own interest,
                reshape the map in their own image. You wish there were more fair and a just
                way of doing it so that the weak and the vulnerable would be able to benefit.

                I applaud the NAACP for trying to defend the weak and the vulnerable. Not just
                poor people, but poor people and working people, my brother.

Smiley:         I think the rules apply differently in every state. In some states there are courts
                who do this. In other states there are elected officials in the state legislature who
                do this. But ultimately what we’re looking at here is a redrawing of these districts
                that in large measure determine who has a chance of running and winning in those
                districts when it comes time for these congressional elections.

                There are a number of things that are fascinating for me watching some of these
                black migration patterns. One, it would appear looking at some of these numbers
                that black folk are not as concentrated as we used to be. It’s still clear that the
                majority of African Americans live in urban centers. But here in LA, for
                example, where I live black folk are moving further and further outside of the city
                of LA.

                They’re trying to raise their families in safer and different neighborhoods. They
                want to become homeowners. And the price of living and buying a home in LA is

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                so expensive that black folks really are starting to scatter. So what’s happened is
                that the concentration of black folk in these particular districts is going way down.

                For example, Maxine Waters comes to mind immediately because I’m sitting
                right now in the district that she represents. This studio is in Maxine Waters’
                district. And Maxine Waters’ district is not nearly as black as it used to be. It’s
                still the case that the majority of voters who are registered in the district are
                African American, but in terms of sheer numbers our brothers and sisters,
                Hispanics, are moving into this district more and more every day.

                That’s happening all across the country where districts where black folks used to
                dominate, those districts are starting to not be as black as they used to be. It raises
                ultimate questions about the clout and the political power that black folk are going
                to have years down the road even in the era of Obama.

West:           Yeah, that’s the crucial question. You and I have had some fascinating
                discussions with our dear brother Mark Ridley-Thomas on this issue.

Smiley:         That’s right.

West:           And I think by following his example it means that black politicians have to be
                more receptive and embracing of our brown brothers and sisters, acknowledging
                that we have not only common interests, but common principles and common
                ideals, so that as the districts become more brown then we need more black/brown
                unity based not just on interest, but on principles, on ideals, on democratic
                principles and democratic ideals so that… we simply need more sophisticated

Smiley:         One thing you can absolutely believe, the reason why the NAACP has jumped out
                on this so early, Doc…

West:           Yeah, why is that, my brother?

Smiley:         It’s because they hear footsteps in the dark.

West:            A little Isley Brothers, Footsteps in the Dark.

Smiley:         They are concerned, as I said earlier, about the scattered nature of black folk in
                this country, which means that black folk are not as concentrated, to repeat what I
                said earlier, which means that there’s a chance that you're going to lose clout,
                you're going to lose power. You may even lose some seats.

                You're going to have ultimately fewer resources. Since the census numbers
                determine the amount of resources that the federal government directs into a
                particular community, there are fewer resources that may be coming into these

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                Ultimately, because again you don’t have this concentrated number of black folk
                in these districts, black folk who run for office in the future may not be able to run
                on as black a platform as they have run on in the past. And if you have to, how
                shall we put this, make your message, make your appeal less black it raises larger
                questions about whether or not we’re going to see more Arturo Davis’s like we
                saw in Alabama popping up all across this country doing and saying anything to
                get elected in these not as black constituent areas.

West:           I see what you're saying. I think that’s why, again, people like Mark Ridley-
                Thomas become important because it may provide new possibilities for
                black/brown unity, black/white unity, black/yellow unity that is progressive rather
                than just catering to the right wing wave that’s at work at present.

                The NAACP again, I applaud them, but maybe they need to have some more
                seminars on black/brown unity. They need to bring in some Latino brothers and
                sisters and say you know what, we’re in these districts together more and more.
                We’ve got to come up with some political strategies based on our common
                principles and interests that allow us to pursue the kind of policies that are

Smiley:         Final thought on this. If you think that the mid-term elections were politically
                contentious, if you think that Steny Hoyer running against Jim Clyburn for the
                No. 2 slot in the House Democratic Caucus was contentious, if you think that
                what Obama and Boehner and McConnell are about to engage in is contentions,
                you wait until you see the politics on these lines being redrawn…

West:           That’s the truth.

Smiley:         In the coming weeks. But as always, we’ll stay on top of it and perhaps get back
                to it as we see how these lines, no pun intended, start to take shape.

West:           No, you're so right about that. And right about this time, as you know, brother,
                we witness the commodification of Christmas, the commercialization of the
                holiday, which is qualitatively different than celebrating the births of that first
                century Palestinian Jew named Jesus.

                The clash between love, humility, self-denial versus money, money, money, me,
                me, me, gifts, gifts, gifts, buy, buy, buy, sale, sale, sale. We talk about this every
                year, but it’s worth talking about, my brother. Sometimes I just want to go to a
                country that has completely overlooked the commercial side of Christmas and
                focuses solely on the spiritual side. Then I ask myself, where is that? I don’t
                know. Do you know a place?

Smiley:         No, I can’t…

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

West:            Is it Jerusalem itself? No, you got a mess over there, you know what I mean?

Smiley:         You stumped me on that one. And I’m stumped because I think you're absolutely
                right about this. We have so commercialized what this season is. But part of
                what leads to that commercialization is that we want to, and I don’t want to
                prosthelytize here, but every year while there’s too much of all of it we want to
                take Christ more and more out of Christmas every year.

                What happens is nobody wants to say Merry Christmas anymore. You're almost
                politically incorrect if you say Merry Christmas. You had better say happy
                holidays. The only reason why I raise this is because the more you take the
                reason for the season out of the season we get back to the point you made a
                moment ago that that’s done in large measure because as long as we can make it
                more universal, as long as we can take the real meaning and the real essence out
                of it, it makes it easier to commercialize it. And I think the two things are not that

West:           Yeah, no, it’s troubling. Again, I have no trouble saying Happy Holidays because
                of my agnostic or atheistic brothers and sisters or my Jewish brothers and sisters,
                the Buddhist brothers and sisters, Hindu brothers and sisters. That’s fine, you say
                Happy Holidays so you don’t impose your Christian sensibilities.

                But at the same time within agnostic and atheistic and Buddhist and Hindu
                traditions there is a concern about love, a concern about vulnerability, a concern
                about humility which ought to be associated with that child named Jesus. And
                that’s what’s lost, you see. And a commodified, commercialized Christmas
                downplays any serious talk about the deep, deep love.

                Now gifts can be an expression of love. But when the focus is more on the gift
                than the love that ought to motivate the gift you know we’re in deep trouble,

Smiley:         Yeah. The other thing that seems to get lost in these holidays, of course, is the
                increasing numbers of people who are suffering. It is true that during the holiday
                season we get a better chance at trying to get some real conversation about
                suffering, about hunger, about poverty. Every network, every TV show, every
                radio show invests some time in trying to do these feel good stories that tug at the

                We of course see the Salvation Army courageously and honorably come out every
                year ringing their bell trying to raise money. But why is it that it is only during
                the holidays that we get any traction at all, and even then just for a moment about
                those who are suffering, those who are hungry, those who are needy, those who
                are homeless, those who are without?

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

West:           I think what you have in a capitalist society such as our self is the stressful and
                pity as opposed to compassion so you end up with a stress on philanthropy as
                opposed to justice. Genuine compassion and justice is not about waiting once a
                year then feeling sorry for those catching hell, giving a little money then moving

                Not until we have justice and not until we have serious compassion at the center
                of things will we be able to break that kind of cycle.

                Pity and philanthropy still is better than indifference, there’s no doubt about that.
                But it would be nice, in fact, if we had a justice in place so we wouldn't have to
                have this kind of cheap pity. We want a costly justice. And we don’t want to pay
                the cost to deal with justice. And this is part of our problem it seems to me
                though, my brother.

Smiley:         Which raises for me a quick exit question that you and I can both sound off on
                individually as well as offer our thoughts about how we think the country would
                view this. My sense is… first the question, whether or not Americans this year
                are feeling more thankful or less thankful than in years past. There’s no scientific
                data on this that I have at least.

                But I raise that question because it would seem that all that we are going through,
                that while people have less, given this recession that we are in, while they have
                less for themselves and certainly less to share, that if you're living and you're
                breathing and you're surviving this, in some ways you ought to be more thankful
                this year than perhaps you were a few years ago.

West:           No, that’s a good point, though, it’s a very good point. When I think of
                Thanksgiving you think of 1492, which was the beginning of World War I against
                our indigenous brothers and sisters, Ameri-Indians. And World War I has still
                been going on in many ways. That’s part of the suffering, that’s part of the
                misery as well.

                But we say to ourselves given the suffering and the misery there’s always room
                for gratitude. Always room for gratitude. And one of the ways in which you push
                your ego to the edge of your soul is to give gratitude prominence. And by
                gratitude I’m mean acknowledging what you're thankful for.

                You and I have so much to be thankful for, my brother. You know what I mean?

Smiley:         Indeed we do.

West:           Our beloved mothers and friendships and work that we do, calling that we do, the
                kind of affirmation that we get. We get trashed, we get trashed a lot too, but that
                goes with the territory. You're only as strong as your foes. And I don’t believe in

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                enemies, because as a Christian it was just foes, because we’re just renting and
                tenting here anyway.

Smiley:         I guess what you're saying is we have to be thankful even for the trashings.

West:           Even for the trashings in a certain sense. In a certain sense.

Smiley:         Speaking of which our Take ‘em To Task segment where we’re about to get
                trashed is coming up in just a couple of minutes. Right now though let me remind
                you that this Hot Stuff conversation continues on our website
       7 days a week where you can sign up for our Speak Out
                Network or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

West:           Or if you’d like to contact us the old fashioned way just leave your comments on
                our Speak Out Network hotline. Call us toll free at 8555 Speak Out. That’s 8555
                Speak Out.

                Coming up my dear brother Tavis one of our listeners going to take me to task for
                my comments about Republicans.

Smiley:          We’re going to see you in 2 minutes how thankful you are for getting trashed.

                Later in this program author and law professor Michelle Alexander looks at
                successful models for today’s civil rights struggle. Stay with us.

West:            From PRI, Public Radio International, in Princeton I’m Cornell West.

Smiley:         And in Los Angeles I’m Tavis Smiley.

                A few weeks ago we had Alfre Woodard on this program which put two people
                born in Tulsa, Oklahoma against one person born in Indiana. I was outnumbered
                in that conversation. Now the tables have turned, because Malcolm McIntodd, Jr.
                is from Indiana.

                Dr. West, Malcolm wants to take you to task for something you said about
                Republicans. First of all, Malcolm McIntodd, Jr., welcome to Smiley & West.

Malcolm:         Thank you, thank you.

Smiley:         Say hello to Dr. West, Malcolm.

Malcolm:         Hi, Dr. West.

West:           How you doing my dear brother from baby face’s town, huh?

Malcolm:        That’s hometown, yes, Indianapolis.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

Smiley:         Just before the election Dr. West tweeted, and I quote, “We must all do all we can
                to prevent the Republican Party from taking over Congress!”

                Malcolm took issue with your tweet, Dr. West. So Malcolm, pardon the pun,
                tweet it away.

Malcolm:        My response to that was just it really doesn’t matter whether a democrat or
                republican wins, overall the banks are in control.

West:           I think you've got an important point, that both parties are dominated by the
                interests of corporate elites and Wall Street oligarchs. I agree with that, my

                I do think that there’s still a difference, it’s just not a major difference, it’s not a
                big difference, that working people and poor people tend to suffer more under
                republicans because their policies tend to be more cold hearted and mean spirited
                when it comes to poor people and working people. But when the democrats are in
                power they don’t do much better, but they do a little bit better. That was the point
                I was making, though.

                Would you disagree with that, my brother?

Malcolm:         I would agree with that. I mean, it’s like the lesser of two evils.

West:           That’s right, that’s right, that’s right.

Malcolm:        With the republicans, I mean, it’s really going to be all for self. And then
                democrats will put more plans out there to help the general public. But overall it
                costs in the end when it comes back around.

Smiley:         Malcolm, is that your way of saying you don’t expect things to change much at all
                or do you expect things to get worse now the republicans are at least running the
                House of Representatives?

Malcolm:        I think it’s going to be a repeat of pretty much what happened to Clinton in ’94. I
                mean, you're going to get the liberal president to get to move over toward the
                middle and moderate side a little bit more than he wanted to in the first place.

Smiley:         Oh, Dr. West, now if you were tweeting about republicans being stopped from
                taking over Congress let me just add, No. 1, with all due respect to Dr. West, his
                tweet didn’t quite work out that way. Republicans didn’t just take over, they
                killed the democrats. It didn’t quite work out the way Doc wanted.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                But Doc, you hear Malcolm suggesting now that what we’re about to get is
                triangulation. That Obama is about to become more centrist, move to the middle,
                do exactly what Bill Clinton did. Now how does that strike you, Dr. West?

West:           I think he’s right in a certain sense. I would disagree in terms of Barack Obama
                moving toward the center. I think he’s been in the center, but never on the left.
                He’s been viewed as being on the left, but the right wing is just lying about it.
                They call him a socialist. A real socialist would scare them to death. But Barack
                Obama is in no way a socialist.

                You don’t have Tim Geithner and Larry Summers talking to you and you're a
                socialist. Or following their advice to be a socialist. He’s been in the center.
                Looks like he may move further to the right, or at least cave in to the right. And
                that is dangerous. I do agree with you in that regard.

Smiley:         Malcolm, finally, I’m from Indiana, as I mentioned earlier. And you are from
                Indiana. And I’m headed back home shortly for the holidays for a few days with
                family up in Kokomo, Indiana.

                Barack Obama did something unheard of. As you’ll recall, he won Indiana in the
                democratic primary and won Indiana in the general election. Just unheard of. I
                grew up in that state and so for a black man to win the state of Indiana, black man
                and a democrat, no less, to win the State of Indiana, that was big news and it
                helped push him over the top on election night.

                I say all that to ask when I come home what am I going to see in Indiana? How’s
                Indiana faring under Obama almost 2 years in now? How are you feeling about
                Obama now?

Malcolm:        I never was an Obama fan. I think he was like the lesser of the two evils of the
                group, so that’s why I went with him. But overall Indiana has not changed.
                We’re back to a republican state. Yeah, we got a democratic president in, but we
                still got republicans in. And we’ve got a lot of issues right now, especially in
                Indianapolis with the police officers, with drunk driving and beating up teenage
                black kids. So it ain’t doing too much different than it was maybe in the ‘80s
                back in the ‘90s.

Smiley:         See, Doc, and that’s the bottom line, Doc. At the end of the day black folk and
                others are going to have to ask themselves 2 years from now that age old question,
                are you better off now than you were 4 years ago? And I’m not sure what the
                answer’s going to be, Doc, when we get there in 2012.

West:           But as I listen to Brother Malcolm, though, and I think you're full of great insight,
                my brother, it just reminds me how right Brother Tavis Smiley 2 years ago when
                he was trashed trying to say exactly the same thing. People not willing to listen.
                They had been drinking so much of the Kool-Aid, as it were…

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

Malcolm:         Man, weren’t they.

West:           And more and more of these painful truths are coming to the surface. That’s why
                we need to fight more intensely, intellectually, politically, morally to make sure
                we focus on poor and working people, my brother.

Malcolm:         Indeed, indeed.

Smiley:         Brother Malcolm, happy holidays to you. Thank for your response to Doc’s

                Here again, Doc, I think we have successfully closed the gap with another person
                who thought… we thought, at least, we were about to get trashed by.

West:           No, it’s true. But this Socratic energy is very important, because we can learn
                from each other. No one of us have a monopoly on Truth, capital T, but the
                small t’s in the truths we can actually gain access to.

Smiley:         Malcolm McIntodd, Jr. from Indianapolis, Indiana. Malcolm, thanks for
                dialoguing with us here on Smiley & West.

Malcolm:        Thank you for having me.

West:           Indeed. And if you want to take us to task for something we said find us on
                Facebook, Twitter and Or pick up the phone and leave
                your comments on our new Speak Out Network hotline toll free at 855 Speak Out.

                Still to come our wonderful conversation with Sister Michelle Alexander about
                the new Jim Crow and where we go from here when it comes to the mass
                incarceration of our brothers and sisters disproportionately black and brown.

Smiley:         Stay with us.

Smiley:         From PRI, Public Radio International, in Los Angeles, I’m Tavis Smiley.

West:           And in Princeton, I’m Cornell West. And this is Smiley & West.

Smiley:         It’s been an incredible 2010 for our next guest. Michelle Alexander has made a
                huge splash with her debut text The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the
                Age of Colorblindness. A whole lot of folk talking about this book.

                She’s currently an associate profession of law at Ohio State University and
                clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, as well as one of President
                Obama’s mentors, federal judge Abner Mikva. We are pleased to welcome her
                onto this program from the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                Michelle Alexander, good to have you on Smiley & West.

Michelle:       Thank you so much for having me on.

West:           We are so very blessed to have you on. We both salute you because you're text
                has become not simply a major scholarly contribution, but a contribution to the
                culture of trying to highlight this new Jim Crow, this new form of racial caste in
                our society and the degree to which so many of the leaders, black and progressive,
                have been almost AWOL on this issue. So we really very much pay tribute to
                your contribution. And wonder what kinds of responses have you received,
                especially from leadership circles?

Michelle:       Thank you so much for those kind words. It’s high praise coming from someone I
                admire so deeply.

                I’ve received a wide range of reaction since the book has been released. I’m most
                gratified by the thanks that I’ve received from prisoners and the families of folks
                who are behind bars, as well as many folks who have returned home from prison
                finding themselves jobless, penniless and barred from public housing, often
                denied even food stamps. Often unable to vote. And wondering how it could
                possibly be said that we’re in a post-racial era and that we’ve closed the book on
                racial caste in America.

                But I’ve also faced a lot of skepticism and resistance. Some from folks within
                law enforcement who have an interest in resisting the message of this book. But
                also by many genuinely concerned people who worry that too many young black
                men and boys are throwing their lives away by dealing drugs.

                I think many folks in the African American community have bought the myth that
                the explosion in black imprisonment is due to a rise in crime in black
                communities. And it’s not true. It’s just not true.

                The mass incarnation of poor people of color in the United States has been driven
                primarily by the arrest, the aggressive arrest and conviction of poor people of
                color for non-violent and drug related offenses. The very sorts of crimes that
                occur with roughly equal frequency in middle class white communities and on
                college campuses and universities that are generally ignored.

                Mass incarceration hasn’t been driven by are young black men acting up so much
                more than young white men or men of other colors. But instead by a war that’s
                been declared on poor people, particularly poor people of color.

Smiley:         Let me jump back if I can right quick, Michelle, to the title The New Jim Crow.
                The New Jim Crow. That is provocative, it is loaded. Why that as the title?

        featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

Michelle:     So many people believe today that with the election of Barack Obama that we
              finally triumphed over race, that we’ve put the final bookend on our nation’s
              history of racial caste. Yet in some major American cities the majority of African
              American men are locked behind bars or labeled felons for life.

              Once you're labeled a felon you're trapped. You're trapped in a permanent
              second class status in which you may be denied the right to vote, automatically
              excluded from juries, legally discriminated against in employment, housing,
              access to education and public benefits. So many of the old forms of
              discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are
              suddenly legal again once you've been branded a felon.

              That’s why I say we haven't ended racial caste in America, we’ve merely
              redesigned it.

West:         No, indeed, indeed. I’ve always thought that if the same level of incarceration
              were taking place on the vanilla sides of town there would be a national
              emergency, a matter of national security almost. But also the issue of class is
              important. If black middle class brothers were going to jail or prisons at the same
              level that black poor brothers are we’d have a different kind of black leadership.

              The issue becomes how do we make this issue more visible? How do we try to
              highlight the humanity of those incarcerated, especially those there for soft drug
              offenses. We want to keep track of humanity of each and every prisoner.

              But when you have the vast majority going there for soft drug offenses tied to this
              so-called war on drugs initiated by, or at least reinforced by the Clinton
              administration, the point that you make, especially in that last chapter, The Fire
              This Time needs to be read by every citizen concerned about social justice in
              America and the world.

              This is very much a bipartisan consensus. It’s the Democratic Party and the
              Republican Party that has promoted the kind of new Jim Crow that you're talking

              How does one go about trying to cast a limelight… I know Angela Davis and
              others have been doing this, but have you found yours being successful in this
              regard, making sure this issue becomes more visible in our society?

Michelle:     It’s certainly my intent with this book, which is to shine a bright spotlight on the
              problem of mass incarceration in ghetto communities in particular. But I think
              it’s important, as you mentioned, for us to begin to tell the stories of people who
              are cycling in and out of prison and allow their voices to be heard. Allow them to
              share their stories.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                As a civil rights lawyer I bear some blame for the fact that so few of those stories
                have been heard in our public discourse in recent years. When I was a lawyer at
                the ACLU litigating racial profiling cases we would screen cases for felony
                convictions and for criminal records.

                We wouldn't represent anyone who had a criminal record out of fear that if we did
                that law enforcement would just argue well of course it makes sense for the police
                to be targeting someone like him. We wanted to tell those stories of doctors and
                lawyers who are stopped and searched by the side of the road. We wanted to tell
                the stories of military veterans coming home from the Iraq war and fielding
                questions by the side of the road and having their car dismantled as drug sniffing
                dogs circle the scene.

                Those stories riveted the American public. There was an outpouring of sympathy
                and compassion for victims of racial profiling because we selected so carefully
                the folks who got to tell their stories.

                In retrospect now I believe that strategy was wrong. That we were horribly
                mistaken in our failure to tell the stories of young black men who are stopped and
                searched, acquired criminal records and were hounded by the police week in and
                week out afterwards.

                By refusing to allow the stories of people who are trapped within the system to be
                heard, it made it possible for the public to continue to imagine that they were
                unworthy of our moral concern. I regret that. And I can think back to young men
                who came into my office telling me their stories of brutality by the police and
                profiling by the police and I said to them I’m sorry, I can’t represent you. And I
                can’t allow your story to be heard. I regret those days. I think those are precisely
                the stories that need to be told.

Smiley:         Since you and I had a chance to last talk President Obama has signed off, as you
                know, on reducing that 100 to 1 crack to powder cocaine discrepancy that Bill
                Clinton signed into law in the crime bill that Doc referenced earlier. Obama
                signed off on reducing that 100 to 1 disparity down to 18 to 1. Put another way, it
                was the law that you had to get caught with 100 times more powder cocaine than
                crack cocaine to get the same sentence.

                One hundred to 1, many of us thought that was racist. Obama campaigned saying
                he thought it ought to be 1 to 1. It ought to be even. Yet as president he signed
                off basically on an 18 to 1 as opposed to 100 to 1. So I wonder, one, what you
                think of that legislative move, that public policy move.

                And since I sit here in California where we just had a long debate that the country
                watched about whether or not we would legalize marijuana, again back to Doc’s
                point about so many of these brothers being locked up for low level drug offenses,
                what are your thoughts about that kind of public policy, that kind of legislative

       featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

             agenda that many supported to address these challenges? So two public policy
             issues that I wonder if I can get your take on.

Michelle:    Certainly reducing the disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 is a step in the right
             direction. But it is a baby step. Absolutely the law should make clear that people
             who are arrested with powder cocaine face the same consequences as those who
             are arrested with crack cocaine. Much of the justifications for the disparity have
             been shown to be false and the result of media hype and sensationalism, not
             evidence of any kind. The disparity should be 1 to 1.

             But I think we should also ask ourselves some difficult questions about whether
             we should be putting anyone in a cage, in a literal cage because they possess a
             small amount of drugs for personal use.

             If we’re seriously concerned about drug abuse and addiction, putting people in
             cages and then branding them felons for the rest of their lives, that’s the cure
             being far worse than the disease. If we’re interested in helping people with drug
             abuse and drug addiction and reducing the harms associated with drug use, we
             should be pouring resources into drug treatment, not traumatizing people by
             putting them in cages and then releasing them into a permanent second class
             status where they may be unable to vote, unable to find work, even get housing,
             perhaps even qualify for food stamps for the rest of their lives.

             Drug abuse and addiction is a serious problem. It’s a public health problem, it’s a
             moral problem, It’s often a spiritual crisis, reflecting a spiritual crisis for some.
             We don’t effectively respond to that by locking people in cages and heaping
             shame and blame upon them. We should be embracing them and giving them our
             support and expressing concern and providing the resources they need to get their
             lives back on track.

             I was a supporter of the proposition to legalize marijuana in California. I myself
             do not smoke marijuana. I have no interest in doing so. I find people who smoke
             marijuana often seem a little dim when they’re under the influence. I don’t see
             great benefits except perhaps for people who are suffering from serious illnesses
             and find some pain relief.

             Again, this is a situation where the cure is so much worse than the disease.
             Spending millions of dollars arresting people, putting them in handcuffs and
             shackles, marching them into courtrooms, putting them in cages, releasing them
             because they possess marijuana.

             Surely we can find better use for those millions of dollars. We could channel
             them to education and to drug treatment. Virtually anything else in our public
             system would have more value than warehousing people and branding them
             felons for minor drug possession.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

West:           You can see the ways in which the legal system, the criminal justice system is
                tilted so strong against the weak. When you think there’s torturers who are out
                there, there’s wiretappers who are out there, there’s predatory lenders who are out
                there, there’s Wall Street bankers who are out there who have flagrantly violated
                the law, they’re walking free. And these folks in cells for having a little bit of
                marijuana or a little bit of cocaine.

                The connection between the invisible hand of the free market and the iron fist of
                the carceral state, of the penal state is the kind of story that you tell and Professor
                Quant of Chicago and Professor Harcourt of Chicago and Glenn Laroury now at
                Brown and Columbia have been telling for a good while. And we need to
                somehow make this much more public, these stories of the ways in which the new
                Jim Crow, the present industrial complex are tied into the wealth and equality.

                What is it the research report says $4 out of $5 that we derived in income in the
                last 25 years went to the top 1% of the population. Something is sick about that.
                And the connection between that kind of wealth and equality and the expansion of
                the present industrial complex which itself is more and more privatized, that story
                that you tell, Michelle, and the other scholars, is just so very important.

Smiley:         If I can piggyback, Michelle, on what Doc just said, because I wanted to ask a
                question about what he just laid out, which is beautifully laid out in terms of the
                expansion, just the outright growth in some states, driven, of course, by a private
                prison lobby, your thoughts on how much of this new Jim Crow is, to Doc’s point,
                driven by the money that’s being made in this private prison lobby?

Michelle:       I don’t believe that mass incarceration was born of greed, of an interest in making
                money. If you trace the origins of mass incarceration, that could be, the origins of
                the Get Tough movement can be traced back to segregationists and former
                segregationists who were searching for formerly colorblind language that would
                appeal to poor and working class white voters who were threatened by many of
                the gains of the civil rights movement.

                Segregationists found that they could no longer use phrases like segregation
                forever and were groping for other types of rhetoric and language that would
                appeal to those who felt threatened.

                Wealthy whites were able to avoid many of the consequences of the civil rights
                movement by sending their kids to private schools and giving them all the
                advantages that wealth has to offer. But poor working class whites, it was their
                kids who are potentially subject to desegregation orders and bussing. They were
                the ones who felt most threatened by affirmative action.

                Pollsters and political strategists found that by using racially coded language like
                getting tough on crime, law and order, cracking down on welfare, that they could
                appeal to poor working class white voters and get them to defect from the

        featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

              democratic new deal coalition and join the Republican Party in droves. It was
              part of the so-called southern strategy of flipping the south from blue to red.

              In the words of HR Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s former chief of staff, he said
              “The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that
              recognizes this while not appearing to.” Well, they did. And President Reagan
              when he declared the war on drugs in 1982 did so at a time when drug crime was
              actually on the decline, not on the rise. It was years before crack even hit the
              streets or made headlines in the United States.

              But now that the drug war has gotten underway and we’ve had a quintupling of
              our prison population, there is a wide array of private and corporate interests that
              have found that they can make big money off of caging human beings. It’s not
              just the private prison companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

              It’s also all of these other corporate interests, like phone companies that gouge
              prisoners and their families when they try to call home. TASER gun
              manufacturers, private health care providers that provide typically abysmal health
              care to people in prison. And of course there’s the prison guard unions who
              lobby not just for higher wages, but for 3 strike laws, trying to guarantee job

              All of these interests now are mobilized to insure at the very least the maintenance
              of mass incarceration, if not the expansion of our prison system. Which is part of
              the reason that I believe that nothing short of a major social movement has any
              hope of ending mass incarceration in the United States.

West:         I think part of that has to do with an increasing consciousness among the prisoners
              themselves. I know that I’ve blessed to spend time with my brothers at Graterford
              in Pennsylvania and Garden State and the Wagner and Trenton State Prison. The
              increasing consciousness so that the larger public can see their intelligence,
              imagination, their rich humanity, their concern about crime. Even though some of
              them have committed crime but changed themselves inside of the prisons.

              In addition, though, it seems to me that there’s a fundamental need to try to put
              pressure on our leadership, that our churches don’t have the kind of prison
              ministry they ought to have. If their prison ministry was as strong as their
              building funds we’d have a different kind of connection between churches and the
              least of these going back to the 25th chapter of Matthew. What you've done to the
              prisoner you've done unto me. We don’t see that kind of focus.

              And the kind of stories that you're telling, I think, are so very, very important to
              get us to see just how inextricably tied the destiny of prisoners are to the destiny
              of American democracy.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

Michelle:       Yes, absolutely. What fills me with the most hope is the organizing and advocacy
                of formerly incarcerated people. People like Susan Burton in Los Angeles. Susan
                Burton is a woman, an African American woman who struggled with drug
                addiction for 15 years after her son was killed. Her 5 year old son was killed.
                She fell into despair and depression and became addicted to crack cocaine.

                Cycled in and out of prison, unable to find work, get drug treatment, find housing,
                survive on the outside. Finally when she was by some miracle able to get clean
                and get treatment she decided that she didn’t want another woman, any other
                woman to ever have to experience what she went through.

                She started going down to what was effectively Skid Row in Los Angeles and
                meeting the prison bus as it would drop women off carrying nothing more than a
                cardboard box with their belongings. She would just say come home with me.
                You can sleep on my couch, sleep in my dining room. Just come home with me.
                I will give you a safe place, a place where you can get your life back together.

                She now runs five safe homes in Los Angeles for women who are returning home
                from prison. And she’s helping to organize formerly incarcerated people
                throughout the southern California area for their basic civil and human rights.
                What they’ve managed to accomplish and other groups like All of Us or None
                have managed to accomplish is humbling and awe inspiring.

Smiley:         I’m wondering, Michelle, since I know it’s going to come, I’m psychic in that
                way. I know I’m going to get some mail. Doc and I are going to get some mail
                that’s going to sound and read something like this. West, Alexander, Smiley, all
                three of y’all ain’t nothing but a bunch of apologists. We live in a country where
                the rule of law is pre-eminent. As a law profession, Miss Alexander, you
                certainly ought to know that.

                And if you do the crime in this country you ought to do the time. The three of
                y’all Negroes need to stop whining about this. Stop apologizing and tell people to
                stop behaving like criminals and they won’t be locked down.

Michelle:       Really that argument is one that suggests we should just tell young people don’t
                make mistakes. Don’t make mistakes, don’t make the same mistakes kids of
                other races make. Be perfect. Be free from sin.

Smiley:         Mistakes and selling drugs are two different things one might argue, though,

Michelle:       It’s the kind of mistake that young people of all races make. The reality is that all
                of us, I think this is a critical point for us to recognize, all of us have made
                mistakes in our lives. All of us are sinners. All of us have regrets and wish that
                we could do things in our lives differently or in some way change the past. We
                can’t. We can’t.

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                All of us are criminals. All of us have broken the law at some point. All of us
                have either drank underage or experimented with drugs or… I often say if the
                worst thing you've ever done in your life is speed 10 miles over the speed limit,
                you've put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone who’s smoking
                marijuana or selling it to others.

                Yet there are people in the United States doing life sentences, life sentences for
                first time drug possession. The U.S. Supreme Court in a case Harlan vs.
                Michigan upheld a sentence of life imprisonment for someone who had no prior
                criminal history and it was his first time drug offense. This is unheard of
                anywhere else in the world.

                What we have here today in the United States is a system that exploits the fact
                that all of us make mistakes. All of us use and sell drugs. People of all races and
                ethnicities. All of us commit crimes in our lives. But only some of us, a group
                defined largely by race, are rounded up, shipped off to prisons and then relegated
                to a permanent second class status for life.

                Our answer can’t be just stay off drugs or don’t deal drugs. That has to be a part
                of our answer, but it can’t be the entire answer or this system will continue to
                function well for a very long time.

Smiley:         Is there a connection, a link between this kind of injustice that we’re speaking
                about today and racial profiling?

Michelle:       Absolutely. Racial profiling is a means by which millions of African Americans
                and increasingly Latinos are swept into the criminal justice system.

                Many people don’t realize that tremendous financial incentives are granted to law
                enforcement to engage in large scale sweeps of poor ghetto communities.
                Thanks to a program known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program
                federal funding flows to those state and local law enforcement agencies that boost
                dramatically the sheer volume, the sheer numbers of drug arrests.

                They don’t get rewarded in cash for bringing down the violent drug kingpins.
                They get rewarded in cash for sheer numbers which is why in 2005, for example,
                4 out of 5 drug arrests were for possession. Only 1 out of 5 was for sale. Most
                people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence.

West:           A shame, that’s a shame.

Michelle:       What’s going on in these communities are these vast stop and frisk operations
                funded in large part by the federal government, and concentrated in the most
                vulnerable communities, the communities that are most deserving of our help,

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                care, compassion and concern and instead are being given prison time and
                ushered into a second class status.

West:           I was blessed to interview a lyrical genius, artistic giant Jay Z. He comes out of
                Marcy Project, he comes out of precisely this context in which the fear of
                confinement, the fear of capture from police, surveillance, helicopters continually
                are part and parcel of people’s lives.

                I also spent time with this coalition of juvenile justice group with Sister Nancy
                and Brother Carlos and others. And they say they can’t get anybody in the
                Obama administration to either reauthorize the juvenile justice, juvenile
                delinquency prevention act which would provide monies to help deal with this
                problem or even get anyone from the administration to highlight this new Jim
                Crow phenomena.

                What’s going on in the Obama administration in relation to these crucial issues?

Michelle:       It’s sad. Obama himself is a drug criminal. Obama himself has admitted to using
                drugs on more than one occasion. If he hadn’t been insulated by being raised in
                Hawaii by white grandparents, if he had been in the hood doing the exact same
                thing he was doing on predominantly white college campuses he would have been
                stopped, he would have been searched, he would have been caught, swept into the
                system, branded and more likely than not he’d be cycling in and out of the prison
                system along with the rest of them. Maybe not even having the right to vote,
                much less be president of the United States.

                One would hope that he would have more concern about these issues. But in fact,
                he has actually decided to increase funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant
                Program. Increase funding for these programs that channel money into these drug
                task forces.

                He’s doing it not because he wants to harm poor communities of color, but
                because he finds it an easy and convenient way to channel federal funding to state
                and local governments and boost hiring of police officers and reduce

                All of that comes at a great cost. Those who are paying the price are folks in poor
                communities of color who are kissing their children good-bye in courtrooms
                every day. We’re are going to have to just deal with the reality that Obama
                himself feels under siege and unable to speak candidly about race and the system
                of racial caste that we have. We can’t just sit back and wait for him to do it.
                We’re going to have to organize and demand that he acknowledge the system for
                what it is and dismantle the aspects over which he has some control.

Smiley:         It is a powerful text. Michelle Alexander was on Doc’s list and my list when we
                started this program some weeks ago as one of the persons we could not wait to

          featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010

                have a dialogue with, so we are honored today that she took the time to join us
                here on Smiley & West to talk about this book that everybody’s talking about.
                It’s called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
                She joined us from Columbus, Ohio, where she’s an associate law professor at the
                Ohio State University.

                Professor Alexander, thanks again for your book. And thank you for making time
                for Doc and I to talk to you today.

West:           We salute you. Your voice is one of the grand prophetic and analytical and
                visionary, courageous voices in a very dark moment in the history of this empire,
                in the history of this democratic experiment. You stay strong my dear sister.

Michelle:       Thank you both so much. It was a pleasure.

                (musical interlude)

Smiley:         You can catch me weeknights on my television show on PBS.

West:           And you can catch me next Friday morning, December 3rd at a breakfast for the
                Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Washington.

Smiley:         This program is living and breathing 7 days a week on our website at
       Join our Speak Out Network. Follow us on Twitter or
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West:           Smiley & West is produced by SRP Productions and distributed by PRI, Public
                Radio International. The views expressed on this program are very much our own
                and do not necessarily represent the views of PRI or this station.

Smiley:         Our producer is Joe Zefran, our JZ. And our engineer is the legendary Johnny
                Morris. This program recorded in the Sheryl Flowers radio studios here in Los

West:            In Princeton I’m Cornell West. Stay strong my brothers and sisters of all colors.

Smiley:         And I’m Tavis Smiley in Los Angeles. This is PRI. Keep the faith.

featuring Michelle Alexander Friday November 26, 2010